Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Rising Tides

Apparently, they only lift the yachts after all.
Since 2000, Americans have been getting poorer, and national rates of severe poverty have climbed sharply, according to a study published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The researchers reported that the growth in the poverty rate is due largely to a rise in severe poverty and that “moderate” poverty has grown little.

The percentage of Americans living in severe poverty—earning less than half of the poverty threshold—grew by 20% between 2000 and 2004, and the proportion in higher income tiers fell. The researchers reported that the number of Americans living in severe poverty increased by 3.6 million between 2000 and 2004.

“These trends have disturbing implications for society and public health,” said Steven H. Woolf, MD, MPH, Professor of Family Medicine, Epidemiology and Community Health, Virginia Commonwealth University, and lead author of the study. The researchers found that the only category of Americans to increase in size were those whose earnings were at least $8,000 below the poverty threshold, who grew by approximately 50% between 2000 and 2004. All other income tiers decreased during these years. The poverty threshold in 2004 for a family of four was $19,307.
Link via Ezra.

Those of us who take income inequality seriously are often dismissed by those on the right because, it is alleged, we don't understand that growth benefits all. I wrote about that a while back in criticizing Paul Wells. These numbers show the lie to the old Reaganite idea. In a string of years where the economy grew (aside from a mild recession post dot-com) American poverty grew, and severe poverty grew even faster. This should also be considered a data point in the theory that when it comes to inequality, politics matters.

The left needs to take inequality, poverty, and insecurity seriously. Hell, a few more years like this and the poor are going to be the largest single demographic, so it will be a vote winner anyway.

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